Don't call it a links course -- unless it is
How many times have you hear a course described as “links-like,” links-style” or – here’s a beauty – “evoking the mystique of the Old Course of Scotland.’
Unless you have actually been to Scotland, much less played the elusive Old Course itself, how could you possibly know what on earth we writers are talking about when we blather on and on about a links-style course when in reality, it is land-locked, built on an open farm land where the sea is hundreds of miles away I’ve done it for sure, but I am trying to break the habit.
Fact is, out of 246 courses in the world that qualify as authentic links courses, according to Malcolm Campbell and George Peper, authors of a handsome tabletop book, “True Links,” only four are in the U.S: Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes and Old Macdonald in Oregon (all part of the Bandon Dunes group) and Highland Links, an inexpensive public track with a quaint lighthouse in Truro, Cape Cod.
Campbell, a Scottish golf writer (who happens to make great scones BTW for his wife’s shop in Lower Largo, Fife, Scotland) plays out of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews while Peper, former editor of Golf Magazine divides his time between Portsmouth, R.I. and St. Andrews.
There are arguments that courses like Newport Country Club in Rhode Island, Pinehurst No.2 in North Carolina and Maidstone on Long Island, N.Y., should be included because they look and play like a links – at least to those who aren’t quite sure what a true links is. But even Chambers Bay in Washington State, the site of the 2015 U.S. Open, which comes pretty close, was excluded from the list.
“Linksland” defined by the British Golf Museum in St. Andrews is “a stretch of land near the coast … characterized by undulating terrain, often associated with dunes, infertile sandy soil and indigenous grasses … which produce the fine textured tight turf for which links are framed.”
“Because linksland is based on sand blown in from the sea it drains quickly and has a wonderfully pliant quality. Somehow soft and firm at the same time, it yields just the right amount to the blade of a well-struck iron,” write Campbell and Peper.
Add to these hard, fast fairways, views of the sea, run-up greens, terrain formed by nature, not man, a sand-based, well-draining terrain, exposure to wind and other natural elements, indignious grasses like fescues, bents and marram, and you have the essence of a true links course.
The authors further note, “Even from an ideal lie in the fairway, hitting to firm-surfaced greens is a challenge. On links courses, the artillery-practice approach – firing lofted shots directly at the flagstick – is all but useless.”
Good reason why surprises, even disasters, can happen right up to the last putt when playing a true links track.
So how can we describe a golf course which is open, wind-blown, but not really a true links, without stealing old words from across the pond?
For example, the stunning Palouse Ridge Golf Club on the Pullman Campus of Washington State University has been described as a ‘bold, dramatic layout, patterned after the classic golf courses of Scotland with the aspect of an inland links.” Actually it is hundreds of miles away from any seacoast while the silty dunes and native prairie of the ‘Palouse’ formed by the Ice Age, create the base terrain. It also has dramatic elevation changes adding new meaning to “up and down.”
Then there is The Links at Union Vale in LaGrangeville, NY. Although it is refrrered to as “an Irish links layout faithfully recreated just north of New York City,” this track has little in common with a true links course. Built by members of the Irish Golf Association on farm land, there is no sea in sight and should we mention there is an artificial fountain shooting up in the middle of a pond. That is not to say, this is not a very fine course. It is. It’s just not a links.
But hats off to those who have described the Dormie Club, the new Coore & Crenshaw minimalist design near Pinehurst, N.C. In everything I have read, there is no mention of “links-style” even though the course rolls gently over the sand barrens and features old-style wide fairways, sandy wire grass, shaggy bunkers and roll-up greens with an open, natural feel.
Fine courses like Dormie and Palouse Ridge do not need hackneyed catch phrases to describe what they are.
A true links, is a true links. If you want to stay in this country and play a true links, you’ll have to go to Bandon or to Cape Cod.
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